Unifor President Jerry Dias was able to convince General Motors and Fiat Chrysler to invest in Canada.
Unifor announced Oct. 11 that a deal was reached with FCA and union members ratified it Oct. 16. GM workers ratified their deal in late September. So far, strikes have been avoided.
Dias will now need to convince Ford Motor Co. workers to sign on with a looming strike deadline of Oct. 31.
Unifor is negotiating new four-year contracts with the Detroit Three automakers’ Canadian operations on behalf of the about 23,000 union members. They include about 3,860 hourly workers at General Motors: 2,400 in Oshawa; 1,400 in St. Catharines and 60 at GM’s Woodstock, Ont., parts distribution centre. The negotiations did not include the roughly 2,600 workers at GM’s CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ont., where workers are under separate contract until September 2017. Another almost 10,000 Unifor members are employed at FCA facilities in Southern Ontario and about 7,000 more at Ford of Canada.
Since beginning negotiations with GM in September, Dias and his bargaining team have been able to convinced both GM and FCA to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in their Canadian plants. He was also able to secure wage gains for his workers, including new hires, in exchange for changes to pension plans for new workers.
Unifor now begins negotiations with Ford, and the union is aiming to secure investments in the automaker’s Windsor engine plants.
While Dias has said Ford has expressed skepticism about the pattern set in place, his bigger headache in talks with the company might be in convincing workers to sign onto it.
More generous deal sought
Dave Thomas, president of Unifor Local 707, told Reuters in early October that workers at Ford’s Oakville, Ont., assembly plant would likely turn down a deal similar to the one set with GM.
Thomas said workers at the plant have told him they want a more generous deal that, among other things, would shorten the 10-year wage grow-in for new workers that was implemented in 2012.
While Dias told reporters at a press conference announcing the FCA deal that the union’s top priority with Ford remains securing investment for the Windsor engine plants, that might not be enough for workers in Oakville, which has already received a major investment from Ford in the last few years.
Dias would likely need to convince Oakville’s members to sign on if a deal patterned off the GM contract would have any chance of passing. Ford employs 5,000 or so workers at Oakville, vastly outnumbering the 1,700 workers it employs in Windsor.
Dias is likely to make a pitch to Ford workers that is similar to the one he made Oct. 11 when announcing the FCA deal, saying the GM pattern secures the long-term future of Canadian auto manufacturing while giving workers raises for the first time in about a decade.
“Things are starting to change in a significant way in this country,” Dias said. “We are now seeing a major investment occurring in Canada."
If he were able to convince the workers to sign on, though, the deal would likely include investments at the automaker’s two Windsor engine plants. Dias has repeatedly threatened a strike with any automaker that does not commit to investments.
The GM and FCA contracts also include $6,000 signing bonuses, legacy workers receiving a four per cent raise over the life of the deal and new hires getting wage increases each year under the 10-year grow-in period. The grid previously had a three-year wage freeze.
They also move new hires onto a defined-contribution benefit plan, a key concession from the union that allows companies to shift much of the financial risk of the retirement plans onto workers. GM and FCA new hires are now required to contribute four per cent of their earnings to their pensions, a contribution the company will match.